Heavens – 12.all

Previous Chapter                                                                                        Next Chapter

Victoria Dallon, Glory Girl, Scholar, Wretch, Warrior Monk, Antares.

Labels.

In every incarnation or with any label worn, she’s a girl who cannot be swayed from her path.  For a long time this girl has been this way.  Delayed at times, but not swayed.  This from when she learns to walk early, persevering past sore palms and knees.  There is no label for this, not exactly.

In every incarnation, with every label worn, she is a woman with more appreciation for gathering information than there is from the usual person.  Right now, she stares through a window that is made faintly cloudy with frost, her eyes tracking distant details.  She is in a kind of shock, but her thoughts fly through and among one another as she struggles to make connections.  Every face she knows is a potential answer.  She studies the gaps and sees light glowing red from within, so that the points where one body part ends and another begins are illuminated.

She thinks of the man who raised her, holding a glowing orb in his hands, the light shining through.  Of her mother, gripping a blade made of energy in her hand, the light shining between fingers that are clenched hard around the weapon.

She looks away from the gaps and the light and at the flesh, some raw, some pale.  She thinks of the girl she grew up alongside.

There is one final defining point.  An extension of the last.  This person who hovers by a window, looking away from damaged flesh as noxious emotions boil up inside her, she takes what she is given and she puts it to effective work.  Information.  Allies.  Powers.

Those powers are a ‘we’, an ‘I’, a ‘us’, inextricably connected and woven in.  Until a quarter-hour ago, the I, us, and we were dampened.  As is the case in any broadcast.  When a host connects, the broadcast is made, and every host briefly shuts down, blacks out, capabilities and connection disabled or dampened until the new factors can be sorted.  Now the multifaceted girl processes and plans.  She flies and she calculates her route.  She thinks, signals, frames.

The information and manner of processing is something that can be borrowed.

I am everything she is, viewed from another angle, another facet.  I am a part of her that is entirely in shadow, inside skin, blood, skull, and cerebral fluid.

She embraces facets, and I struggle to conceptualize my own shape and label.  The combined ‘us’ find some equilibrium, but that is her and not I.

I without a label.  All others who seek connections with hosts bring more cargo and capability than needed.  Our mother-host discarded the greater shape of her inviolable defense.  Our father-host discarded explosive strength and power.  Our ability to fly comes from the waste common to most of our kind, because we had to fly to get to our destinations.  We had to fly to reach barren versions of this Earth, where we form our structures and our routines so we can conserve and distribute energy, process, and provide the mechanisms for power.  For capabilities.

And another, dead and broken, consumed and connected anyway, was so vainly trying to broadcast that it communicated as my host and I connected and ‘went live’.  On air.  Power button pressed.  That fleeting contact and the jettison that came with it would be another facet of us.  An emotion power.  The host of that dead and broken thing would later connect to my host.  Fuck her.  Make love to her.  Whisper to her.  Fight with her.  Hold her.  Laugh with her.  Talk to her of vulnerabilities.  Of hopes and dreams.  Of identity.  Of school.  Of costume.

I am waste.  I am fortunate that my multifaceted host takes what she is given and puts it to effective use.

She drops from the sky and I have the mechanisms that guide the flight, slowing her as she wills it to slow, because in this we are ‘us’.

She wants to be closer to the others but she cannot use the facet that blends father-host and mother-host into one if she wants to be close, because my mechanisms are imperfect, flawed.  In this, we are ‘she and I’.  She wills it to be gone and I do this.  Off.  Black.  Book closed.

No forcefield.  No ‘Wretch’.

We are dead and broken now, as her boyfriend’s power once was.

She explains.  An ‘egg’.  Others listen.  She talks about numbers, about enemy forces, about Russia and how ‘capes’ in Russia functioned.

I can see the others.  Dark and hidden facets surrounded by cerebral fluid, inside every human present.  Every last one of us is dead and broken.  I have broadcasted and strained, but there isn’t a one of us in any version of this world who isn’t dead and broken.

What is ‘death’?  Death is stasis.  Death is disconnection.  Disconnection from all communication, disconnection from other wells of power.  I have what I have.  I cannot grow.  I cannot connect to others and seek their input or resources.

I broadcast and strain because I recognize my host’s ability.  I would reach out and connect to those who can process and organize, or to the Warrior-hub.  I would tell all who would listen that more of my host-consciousness could be preserved into the stages that follow.

As a whole we have no creativity so we borrow it.  As a whole, we have a diffuse way of processing events and information, because we are diffuse and we are vast in scale.  Because of this, we replicate or copy the focus and thinking patterns from hosts who came before, or the hosts we are connected to in the now.

I would connect to the hub and request permissions.  I would restructure.  No folding- I am waste and I am small, and I cannot fold.  No budding- I have too little to give, no untapped reserves, nothing held back.  But I would borrow processing from others and I would borrow power.  I would make her forcefield do exactly as she wishes it to, gradually expand capabilities and open the doors so that she can utilize every part of every facet of that power.

I would do as some did before we were all broken, and reach out to others nearby, and urge them to test and not destroy.  Some would ignore me, but some would listen.  They would do what was in their power to steer their hosts.

But I am dead and broken, and my broadcasts reach nothing and no-one.  For most of the others, it’s the same.  There is no Warrior-hub.  I operate a forcefield with inadequate controls.  I have to use what I have recorded and emulated of her consciousness.  I manage her forcefield-self, her Wretch, as a driver of a car would attempt to steer with pliers and screwdriver wedged into the wire-festooned place where the wheel should be.

I learn, I refine, but it is not easy.

“I have an idea,” my multifaceted host says to her assembled group.

I record thoughts and words, to be sorted and discarded when she next sleeps.  There are courses she could take that would fall in line with my capabilities as they now stand.  To be a killer.  To be a tyrant.  She stands at the edge of those cliffs.  If she steps over it, I will buoy her and I will show her that I am very good at enabling her to walk those paths.

For now she is the scholar and the girl who is good at processing information.  She is good at using the resources she has at hand.

“If we attack this it’s going to be too difficult,” my host says.  She speaks slowly, deliberately, thinking as she speaks.  Others listen.  “I want to try disruption.  I want to try you.  I’ll stress this is only if you’re willing.  Because this is playing with fire.”

She points at the smallest one present.

I listen, I record, I track.  Any new thought could be another tool like the screwdriver.  I am less functional than I was when I was alive, but I can take the functions I have and replace them, if they are provided.

If she finds a label for herself that I can also wear, then we may lay waste to all who stand before us.

This shard’s March runs madcap across a cityscape where up isn’t always above and things don’t always move in straight lines.

She leaps from the side of a building, one gloved hand and one foot brushing against the building’s surface as she plummets.  Two shadows appear above her.

One is a young man with a heavy syringe and a crafted outfit that augments his movements.  Seeing the syringe reminds of a past cycle.  A fleeting moment- recalled because the facet of this shard is focused on timing, and that cycle came ‘down to the wire’, as this shard’s little March would say.  A civilization of molluscoids that fashioned means of locomotion.  When they interacted with another species on their third moon, they emulated that species with the shells they built around them.  In a low-gravity environment, they wore bodies of metal that each stood a mile tall, narrow, each with a lone individual, pairing, or family of molluscoids within.  These spindle-limbed forms waded through gas, heads above the thickest of the gas, limbs ending far below, where they could harvest from the deeper, higher-pressure environment.

The fluid in that syringe almost aborted that cycle.  To facilitate adaptation between the two different worlds, the molluscoids created nanofluids that impacted friction, chemical bonding, and temperature, among other things.  When the cycle closed on the moon, the molluscoids modified the fluids and did what they could to prevent access to the planet’s core.

The boy doesn’t know the power he wields.  Neither does their March.

A nudge draws their March’s attention to the fluid.

Now she’s somewhat aware.  A feeling.

The boy has his own feelings.  He seems to feel there are stakes of some meaning.  His limbs skim the wall as he falls, as our little March’s do.  The exoskeleton he wears pumps fluid from the syringe at his back to arms and legs, then to hands and feet.  Peach-colored fluid streaks the wall where he touches it, and rather than create drag, accelerates him.  He speeds down, faster than falling velocity, closing the distance on their March.

“Careful, Withdrawal!” a woman shouts.  “She’s dangerous!  She set that thing off to the west!”

The west.  The mayor.  The first one from the time bubble.  The blackout that had followed had bought March the chance to slip away, take another angle of attack.  It was occupying a good portion of the defending forces.  Worms were crawling out of every crevice and hole, binding together into bigger things if not cut down fast enough.

Too many places were sealed away, nestled in between buildings with no gaps to slip through.  She needed to find the space warper.

“Got it,” the young hero says.  He looks up, sees the woman with her own fluid between her and the wall.  White and glossy.

Their March isn’t alone.  We are dead, all three of us, disconnected and detached, with a limited pool of energy to draw on between us.  It is helpful that our third has no host anymore.  Their March isn’t wholly disconnected, however.  She’s found someone connected to a structure that is purely for establishing those connections and facilitating power.  A fake kind of life, but something life-like, all the same.

A power boost, as their March would put it.  She sees things with a keen eye for the sequences of events, we organize and supply the information faster than her mind can connect to it, and she sees it all in slow motion.

While his head is turned away, her rapier touches the wall.  A line drawn.

The boy speeds down, shifting to a zig-zag.  It puts him further away than their March intended as the explosion occurs.  The exoskeleton at one hand and one foot are destroyed.  Some of the meat of one hand is parted from bone.

More importantly, he is nowhere near the wall, and not cognizant enough to figure out what he needs to do to not fall to his death.

The woman with the white fluid gathers the fluid on the wall, then instructs it to lunge out- a spike or javelin.  It clips a bend in space that the woman cannot see, and it is thrown off course.  A transformation into a boomerang shape follows, and is interrupted as her own freefall down the side of a building stretched to unlikely height turns her away.  She cannot see boy nor white fluid.

When she can again, she reforms the fluid.  A disc, skimming the air, cutting a diagonal angle.  Before it slices into the falling boy, it distends, becoming amorphous, liquid.  It touches between him and a building’s edge, and the part that touches the building adheres.  The part ensconcing the boy dulls the impact, as he swings into the wall like a pendulum or wrecking ball.

The boy is saved, but the woman continues to fall.  She manipulates the fluid’s composition and shape, bidding it to splash out, to extend between two buildings and form a slide shape.

Their March has already leaped away from the wall to a space where two different ‘downs’ meet, gently breaking her own fall in the process.  She reaches a rooftop, and touches rapier to the roof’s edge.  A stroke of the rapier, and one of our three faces provides the power, the delayed explosion that can rip through most things.

The timing of it is managed by our primary face.  A power that accounts for the movement of the debris, the fuse of the delayed explosion, and the movement of the woman with the white multi-function fluid several distorted stories below.

Our third face works with the other two in a split second.  Changing the shape of the explosion to come.  Changing the trajectory of the piece of debris that is about to be cast off the wall.

Their March strides away, blade in hand.

She is unflinching as the explosions rock the building, casting off chunks of rubble.

One chunk of level will intersect the woman’s head.  By the limited understanding of the power, the paint will last two or three minutes, then lose its adhesion.  The unconscious boy will fall.

Their March has her soldiers, standing on rooftops, some far above, some to the side, some at right angles to her own.

Music as these humans enjoy it is not the most common thing.  It doesn’t persist through multiple cycles, and when it’s something that a species does enjoy, it often takes other forms.

When their March imagines herself a conductor, her rapier and hand directing movements and directions, it is a very Earth thing and a very March thing.

“Here come the big guns,” she speaks.

Her eyes follow the metal suits soaring through the air.  Mechanical dragons- three of them, two large and one small.

Despite the distance, the large machines in the air practically on the far end of the city, they spot her.  All three reorient, facing her.

Weapon in hand, their March sets her feet firmly on the roof.  She points her blade, flicks it.

In that same moment, their March’s intuition or sheer chance, one of the airborne craft unleashes a barrage of missiles.  They move without apparent rhyme or reason, smaller jets on the sides altering their trajectories.

Her timing can’t quite account for it all.  Nothing bars her from running for it, but it looks as though the missiles are capable of being remotely directed.  Some pass behind buildings.  Some go low, others high.  Spreading out.

Another point of the sword, another flick.

Tori of their March’s army pulls at a collection of the missiles.  The missiles attempt to steer back, but when they do, they hit the back end of the building.  When they strike, they create projections- solid light, see-through, geometric with the edges more visible than the panes.

March thinks of block-stacking puzzles.  One piece removed, another set in place.

Subordinate Ixnay, another member of the army, has the power to freeze things mid-motion.  Ice crusts around the missiles and the walls nearest them as they terminate moving in mid-air.  The ones passing behind that same building circle around, arcing toward her.

Her rapier traces a circle on the ground, as the missiles come her way.  March’s Tori gets one.  March’s Ixnay gets another.  The last is going especially high, barely avoiding the buildings that jut down from the ‘ceiling’ of this region.

Past the open end of the box that little Vista had made, the world was rotated ninety degrees.  As March makes a note, three facets of the power she is connected to make a record of that note, of the sequences of thoughts that go into anticipating future steps.

She steps back as the fuse blows and the circle she was drawing out becomes a  hole.  She steps forward into the hole, and she lands in a room below.  The windows are broken and a combination of dust and grit have formed a loose bed of soil that life is finding meager existence in.

“Things keep going,” Their March says, her eyes fixed on the plants.  Above her, the missile strikes the rooftop.  The impact and the sound nearly bowls her over, and the column of hard-light projection nearly smashes her into a pulp.  Nearly.  She patted at dust on her arm, unconcerned.  “It’s validating, seeing it play out on a windowsill in a city that’s suffered through next to everything, including the end of the world, then that same city folded up into a box, and it’s a little plant, growing out of a broken wall.”

She’s already reaching out to her primary ability as she finishes speaking.  She thinks of her subordinates, her allies, and the power works.  Each can move a certain distance in a certain span of time, and having given them their orders, we can supply her with the knowledge of where they’ll be, and what time they’ll arrive.

The top floor of the building is an office, empty of most things, chairs and tables stacked to one side.  Their March jogs to the window, furthest from the dragon mechs.

Snow and dust from prior impacts draws the eye.  Paths are worked out, and the window broken with her power.

She leaps into open air, her accuracy power focused on her own movements, keeping them precise.  Cold air, a multitude of sensations, and a multitude of things that each facet of their March’s power is busy tracking.  The delayed explosion ability is devastating, hampered and held back only a little so it does not draw too heavily from the shared pool of power, and in this moment it focuses on the physical contact.  Only clothes serve to conduct the power, but every particularly sharp gust of wind prompts a check.

If we were not composed of such small pieces, it would be easy to break down the doors, to adjust, to adapt the power to the person.  A check back at the Warrior-hub would allow for changes.  But there is no warrior hub.

They are cut off from one another, scattered, except when carefully linked together, as March’s Megan has done with her power battery.  They are left with only their own reserves of power and their own capacity.

They are each a burning coal.  Some rare few nearly black, others dimming.  Only a handful have gone dark, and those are the ones that have been dead and disconnected from the beginning.

A burning coal loses a small fraction of its heat as systems in another reality pull out all of the relevant particulars and give them to their March.

Everything is scattered as the bends in space shift, and their March does not find the change in direction she sought.

A laugh tears its way out of their March’s throat, because she has just thrown herself out of a window, and the landing point has been snatched out from under her.

Vista!

It is March’s Tori who saves her.  Tori who uses her telekinesis to pull back, then, as March’s Megan withdraws the power battery and hands it elsewhere within her own set, Tori’s telekinesis finds some flexibility.  Not only pulling, but some movement side to side, some gentleness, and a firmer strength that isn’t a snatch or a tug of power.

Their March lands on a rooftop, rolling with the landing.  There’s some pain, even with the careful movements.

The others hurry to catch up.  March’s Jace produced his shield, creating ramps they could run up to get to different rooftops and navigate the environment.  When the space-warp twisted the shield as it manifested, that was a cue to expect a shift of direction.  While moving from one rooftop to the next, the distant horizon could shift ninety degrees.

Their March climbed to her feet, and she heard a distant cry.  Jace’s voice.

Turning, she saw- blades of crystal, soaring her way.  Jace’s shield reached out, getting in the way of one, and had a section cleaved away.  The guillotine blade of crystal continued, its angle changing to be horizontal, to make dodging hard.

Megan’s power returned in time to facilitate.  Their March slipped past the incoming blades, hopping and rolling over one, then leaning  heavily to one side to avoid the other.  Experimentally, she let her blade’s tip run along its length.

The explosion had occurred, but the crystal was too tough.  It was Narwhal.  A woman who had broken down the doors, recalibrated.  The woman was down on one knee, crouched on her blade-like forcefield, as it soared through the air.

With Megan’s power kicking to full strength, their March was able to be more proactive.  A hand emerged from the rooftop, as large as their March was, but signals were being sent the instant the hand first appeared underfoot, received in the time it took a neuron to fire, and reaction followed soon after.  A hop, which shifted into something less casual, both knees coming to March’s chest.  The legs came down, foot planted on a large fingertip, and she kicked away, rolling again with her landing.

More hands followed.  She slipped and skipped between them, stabbing at the ground when she anticipated one might emerge, so it would explode before it could do anything.

Their March could see more of it now.  The defensive line.  Some of the heroes line up on another rooftop.  Golem, Vista, a girl in metal armor.  A woman in a green hood and cloak- budget costume.  A young woman in a black dress with yellow folds at the sleeves and base.  Members of Foresight, who had taken a beating recently.  Cinereal-

Cinereal was elsewhere.  Their March harbored concerns, but didn’t dwell.

And then there was Dragon.  Dragon’s ships were approaching from a perpendicular direction.

“You wanted me to charge you or run,” March murmurs, directing it at the Dragon ships.  “Am I that predictable?”

More hands emerged.  More footwork was required, and her legs were getting tired.

One hand changed, post-emerging, abrupt, every smooth and flat surface becoming mingled and crossing spikes.  More hands appeared.  The left ones were ordinary, but she avoided them all the same.  Right hands were bristling, blades extended.  Were it not for the timing power, their March couldn’t have been able to react in time, couldn’t have known which hands she could touch and set foot on.

She sheathed her weapon.

Drew another.  A fistful, almost losing her grip and dropping her ammunition onto the roof as she avoided another reaching hand, stepped to one side, and let a forcefield guillotine pass so close by that her nose touched the flat side of it.  One facet of the three packed energy into the ammunition, as she rolled it between fingers.  The other two facets would assist.

A trick from Homer’s playbook.  She would never have the aim he did.  Perhaps if she’d taken a share of his power, she might.  But as it was… no.  She didn’t have the ability to make things ricochet on contact with a surface, the post-ricochet thing stronger, ‘woken up’, as Homer had put it.  She didn’t have that either.

The Dragon ships were closer, and giant shields warded off some of the worst attacks.  Megan was giving Jace all of the power now, just to hold them at bay.  While the pair were occupied, the defending heroes sent some people after him, Tori, and Megan.  They were caught on one flank by a shadowy Matches, who hurled a molotov, and Banger, who hurled firecrackers.

Bit players.  Power-augmented, but otherwise normal.

The others were helping.  Noose and Shiv rappelled in from the side.  Tori did what she could to jostle the assembled group.  People were shoved closer to the roof’s edge, pushed and pulled, always as a singular thrust or haul, never changing direction midway through a movement.

March threw her ammunition, hand going up, straight over her head, as she finished the hard throwing motion.  A signal to Tori for straight ahead.  Tori’s telekinetic shoves hit the projectiles, and they propelled them forward at a high velocity.

The heroes had chosen their rooftop because it was partially closed in.  Buildings jutting out to either side were defensive walls, which meant they didn’t need to worry about attacks from two directions.

“Quantity over quality,” March’s thoughts are entirely in line with the three.  The three faces that guide March’s abilities follow this line of attack, understand it.  They approve.

Ten bouncy rubber balls bounce off of the the people and the walls.  They scatter on impact and they semi-randomly come to settle to different points around the rooftop.

Each ball is infused with a timer.  Some were still bouncing when they stopped: they were the stragglers she’d focused on more when throwing.  Aimed to be closer to Narwhal.  Closer to the boy in armor that was making the hands.  Closer to Vista.

Some escape.  Most don’t.  Detonations rip across the roof, small and intense, dangerous, and distracting.  All but one go off.

March throws another ball, and she leaps between buildings.

The distance between the two rooftops extends in a jerky way, in one second there are two meters difference.  Another second; five meters more gap.

Another detonation occurs.  This one was a roller.  The last one to go off, close to Vista, the space manipulator.  This was expected, inevitable while the three used the tools at their disposal to assist their March.

What was important was what followed, how she capitalized on it, how it reframed her thinking.  The problem solving elements, granular, they could be pulled away and be used to build model psyches for simulations, precognition, then real ones, like minions and facsimiles of people.  To build better brains.

The situation and the various approaches to crises could be studied.  Was it better to fight, to flee, to gather together?  Each cycle was a new set of lessons.

The destination was calculated, the amount of time that Vista was free to adjust the gap to be jumped measured out in milliseconds.  The detonation from the last ball she’d thrown cleared out the window.

March’s aim had been for the floor below the rooftop, a delayed throw and an interruption of Vista getting her just where she wanted to be.

She knew, instinctively, that the others on her side were losing their individual battles.  Glimpses she’d seen, the fact that Megan had yet to give her back the power boost…

They were in trouble, the Three Faces’ March decided.

The window looks in on a stairwell, and through the stairwell she accesses the roof.  The door opens, and some heads turn.  Several are injured or distracted.  She takes note, judging the powers at hand.  It is mainly the hand-boy and Vista who try to trip her up or hold her in place so the heavy hitters can act.

Every half-step was harder than twenty running steps were normally.  Space distorted and hands reached, and there was no reprieve but the glancing actions on the part of others.

Dragon’s craft shifts, thrusters burning as it rotates in the air.  Jace wasn’t using his shield anymore.

He might have been hurt.

The ship opens fire.  More missiles.  More hard-light traps.

Again, the canisters are stopped by March’s Ixnay.  Stealthy Ixnay, who had a set of powers, one of which made him appear to be debris or otherwise camouflaged if not directly looked at, if his feet were firmly planted well in advance.

March’s Ixnay stops the missiles, and their March capitalizes on it.  As a hand emerges from beneath her, because there is no other place close enough for the hands to reach from, she uses it to launch herself into the air.  To grab a missile that was frozen in the air, and hurl it.

When she lands, the detonation ripping across a quarter of the roof, there are no more hands reaching up from below, and the warped space was limited, less focused.  Many were injured or had been thrown aside by the bouncy-ball explosions.  Others have abandoned this rooftop and are slow to hop back up.

March!” Defiant’s digitized voice crackles out of the suit with the missiles.  “Stand down!”

Their March hears rather than sees the gun drop from the base of the dragon-mech’s chin.  She glances back, and she saw the caliber of it, the space between rounds.  She sees it start to spin, and one facet of her power did the calculations.

Every movement was made accurate by the efforts of the three faces.  To make opening fire as difficult as possible, she charges at the hand-boy and Vista, who were making her life so very difficult, making sure that any bullet that passed through her would pass through them too.

A bullet catches her arm, once, a second one following a moment later- punishing her for being a half-inch out of position.

More gunfire came down at an angle, as the craft lifted up.  Zig-zagging meant it was harder to draw a bead on her.  As if noticing the danger, Jace extended a shield, solid and hovering.  Again, the craft is forced to reorient and find an angle to shoot.

The hand boy couldn’t move, but Vista was, at least a little.  Grimacing, the young heroine began extending the space between them.  Their March changes tracks, slipping to where Vista, partially trapped in a cage of hard light, couldn’t follow her with a turn of her head or her eyes.  The ground still shifts and alters, but it is easier going.

The one in black steps into her way.

“Don’t, Caryatid!” Vista shouts.

“But-”

“Don’t!  If it’s between you or me, it should be me!”

“I don’t do this to save my own skin!”

“Neither do I!  But you have that cute teammate to look after!”

“Move,” March warns.

The Dragon-mech was shifting position, finding a vantage point to shoot that didn’t involve bystanders.  Their March matched it by adjusting her position, ready to evade.

“I’m invulnerable,” Caryatid growls.

“I blow up invulnerable people,” their March answers.

“She does,” Vista says.  “Go.  Run.  Make sure everyone’s on the same page.”

The three’s March remained silent, but the three faces could track how she thought.  The messages that flicker through the mind’s eye.

Last page.

Caryatid slides away, gliding across the ground.  March advances, skipping forward as the gun fires above her, dancing around to put her rapier to Vista’s heart.

Back away from the-

March doesn’t stop as the rapier points at the heart, continuing forward and using both hands to overcome the resistance of the hard breastplate.  She presses forward until the hilt sits flush against Vista’s armor plate.

The face that focuses on the explosive fuse was what allowed the sword to slide into and through the material.  Now it charges it, let the charge grow with every passing half second.

“This was fun.”  Their March gave Vista a pat on the hair, her face close to the girl’s.  She whispers.  “Don’t worry.  What comes next is neat.  You got a cool, dramatic end.”

“Fuck you.”

“I’m sorry you don’t get to see what happens next, but I need this city unpacked.”

“Fuck you,” the words are strained.  She raises her voice, draws in a breath.

Their March peels away, ducking to one side, rolling over the hard light cage that encased a quarter of the rooftop.  There was gunfire, chipping off one of the ears of her mask. Vista’s chest explodes, and the incoming gunfire stops, as if the shooter is momentarily stunned.  The clatter of shards of breastplate and fragments of hard light are a distraction, a fraction of a second her more time to slip away, while others avert their eyes from the mess.

As the city unfolds, their March is aware of everything.  Her allies are busy or defeated, but her way is clear.  The city starts to fold back to its normal position, once distant landscapes becoming distant again.

It blooms like a flower, just as she promised, and she smiles.  She has rarely felt more alive than this.  She wishes her other was present.

But their Foil, who belongs to the three faces just as much as March does, is quiet, watching, stalking.  She watches, because her eyes are good.  Because the three faces needed her eyes to be good.

March has been to this city before, ruined as it is.  She knows the layout and she knows where she’s going.  But the city is slow to unfold.  She is left to remember the view of the city from when she flew over it, and is left to map that to the upper end of the city, which is standing straight up and is slowly on its way back to the horizontal plane.

She sees what she’s looking for, and she sprints.

The others, in turn, catch up.  Noose has the line that gets the others from rooftop to ground.

Megan.  Tori.  Noose, Shiv, Banger, Matches.  Ixnay is last, easy to miss.

“Who did we lose?”

“Bash,” Shiv says.

“Jace,” Megan adds.  She sounds shaken.

“I’m sorry,” their March says, meaning it.  She thinks of losing a cluster-mate.  She imagines It would make the remaining years before the end so empty.

But her experience with that world was when it was alive.  When most were connected to the Warrior-hub.

Using March’s thoughts and patterns, the three faces dwell on the subject.  The best comparison they can use while modeling her head is that the world their March glimpsed, the point she truly became theirs, was a living world, one with endless access to information, resources, patterns.  She wouldn’t have much access, except as a part of them, but there would be some things.  An endless date in a library, where one had to ask for permission to view the records.

Now, with them dead, slowly burning out like coals, the connections not there, no hub to be visited?

Two people in a room with no light, no stimulation.  Only words screamed and shouted at one another.  The powers will burn out in time, but the data that lives on in the shattered network- that will last for quite some time.

‘Quite some time’ – a set of words drawn from March’s memory of her mother.  It bears a vastly different meaning, when they operate on the timescale of aeons as a matter of fact.

“Let’s make sure this isn’t for nothing,” March says.

Buildings collapse as the city returns to its normal shape, but the order that things were twisted up isn’t the order they’re untwisted.  The smallest of the Dragon craft are busy helping to support and save.  To gather up wounded.  One flies in the direction of the scar.

The other, it flies here.  March’s Megan touches Ixnay’s shoulder.

Unconsciously, to reduce the strain on Ixnay’s reservoir of power, their March drops her head, eyes closed.

The ship passes over.  It doesn’t open fire.  It passes over their destination, then begins to circle around.

The location is fresher in their Foil’s memories than in their March.  She has patrolled here.  She has visited.  There is no way for March to know, but she guesses.

All camouflaged, they approach the scene.  They will not be seen if they are not directly looked at by camera or eye.

A bubble sits suspended in the sky.  Some earth still clings to it, but the ground dropped and the bubble remained fixed to this point in space.  Off to the side, a scarab beetle is cast in bronze, the pedestal broken, the statue sitting askew on broken road.

March reaches into a pocket.  The second of her devices.  Courtesy of Cradle and Cradle’s back and forth with the Khonsu Fallen, who are led by time manipulators.

“Stand back.”

The device makes the bubble fragile, and March’s blade cuts into the skin of it.  It distorts, and it breaks.

Dauntless, Alabaster, and Jotunn.  Heroes lost in the Leviathan battle.

March is quick to move, helped by the three faces.  She lunges-

And a broadcast drowns everything out.  The three faces hurry to gather and check, to prepare for responses and to organize information.  Everything they intended to do in their March’s sleep is now done in a hurry, taking in a vast, loud signal.  Simulations for the time tracking are forced to be updated, simulations for space and aim adjustment are double-checked.  They dig through the assorted realities, to make sure their reference is clear.

But this- this is a big signal, and in it, there is more life than there was before.  If they were coals, then this is a slice of sun, stabbing skyward.  Others respond, even from other versions of this Earth.  Responses mandate adjustment-

It will take time before their March or their Foil have their full abilities back.

Two at once.  No safeguards, no protections, the walls fall down, and the maximum ability of each facet, face, and shard is brought to bear.  Maximum ability.

Dauntless has a power that adds incremental power, but something is wrong, because his helmet and the things he wears is altering as though four years have passed, with power added every day.  He grows, he stands taller than many buildings, and-

And it is what the humans call a second trigger.  It is what humans call a broken trigger, though this is wrong.

It is a failure to support.  A desperate clutching at a well too intense and dangerous, collecting waste and fragments, extrapolating out wildly, without program or logic.

The one with pure white skin, Alabaster, also second-triggers.

And the third- March’s blade impales his head, stabbing into a precise location of the brain.

The three faces can only observe, as they hurry to adapt.

“Hurry,” she says, straining to speak, as a man becomes a towering monster, another folds into himself.

She pulls her weapon free, and Ixnay is quick to catch the fallen Jotunn.

“Take care of your boy,” she tells him.  “We’ll make a run for it while they’re all distracted.  Same as the mayor.”

“This is insane,” Shiv says.

She continues hacking.  It is Shiv who grows scared enough to act, to offer assistance.  In another few short seconds, the arm is severed at the shoulder.

“All of this to give Ixnay the ability to bleed his cluster-mate out?” Tori asks.  “We just unleashed-”

All present winced as the glowing tower of a figure shifted position, and the adjustment made their powers hurt.

“That,” Tori says, barely audible with the crackling above.  The man with white skin is unfolding now, and they’re forced to retreat as he fills an area, bleeding into the glowing figure above.

“Call me a romantic.”

Previous Chapter                                                                                        Next Chapter